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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

Bajo – Base

The Spanish bajo, for “low”, sounds unlike the similar words in English…. except for base.

Think about base as the core foundation or support — the lowest thing holding everything else up — or even in the old Shakespearean sense of “vile”, “the basest weed” —  the connection makes much more sense.

Both come from the Latin basis (meaning, “foundation”) — from which we also get the same English, basis.

And think of the bass cleff in music, for the lower notes, as well.

The surprising connection is explained easily when we understand that a lot of sh- and si- and related sounds in Latin turned into j- in Spanish. Thus, the b-s maps to b-j almost exactly.

Dejar – Relax

The “sh” sound — often represented in writing as an “x” — transformed in all different ways to the “j” letter (and the accompanying mouth-clearing sound, influenced by Arabic) as late Latin turned into Spanish. See lots of examples: sherry/jerez, for example.

Here’s another: the common Spanish word, dejar, meaning, “to leave to the side” or “to put down” or to “put away” or to just “let go.”

Dejare comes from the Latin laxare, meaning, “to loosen”. From this same root, we get a few English words — which did not go through the x-to-j transformation Spanish did including:

  • Lax —  which basically means to loosen up, so it is similar conceptually!
  • Laxative — this loosens up the remains of your food inside your body so you can excrete, to be euphemistic.
  • Relax — this is a loosening of your muscles and body and mind as well. According to this same pattern, we also know that relax in Spanish is, relajar.

See more examples of this same pattern including lejos and leash here.

Valija – Valise

In some of the Spanish words, they say maleta to mean “suitcase.” But in other parts, such as Argentina, they say valija.

Valija, although it sounds different from anything English, actually is quite similar to the almost-forgotten–my grandparents still use it!– English word, that also means “suitcase” , of valise.

Although they sound different, the connection becomes clear if we remember the pattern of the sh- to j- conversion: Latin words that had an sh- sound tended to turn into the j- sound in Spanish. Think of sherry/jerez.

In this case, the French valise entered English unchanged but when the French word was borrowed into Spanish, it was Spanish-ified with the s- sound turning into a j- sound. Thus, the v-l-s maps to the v-l-j.

Celoso and Jealous, Zeal

The Spanish celoso and the English for the same, jealousy, come from the same Greek root: zelos.

But how did this happen? They should so different!

The answer is that the Latin (and Greek) words with a -ch- sound and variations (like -sh-, the soft -j-, -z-, etc) usually turned into the hard, guttural, throat-cleaing -j- sound in Spanish. Think about sherry and jerez, for example, or quash and quejar, or soap and jabón.

Thus, the c-l-s of celoso maps to the j-l-s of jealous.

Curiously, the ancient Greek form — zelos — meant jealousy, but in the more positive sense of enthusiasm and friendly rivalry. In a word: zeal — which also comes from the same root!

Eje and Axle

The Spanish eje for “axle” comes from the Latin for the same, axis. The English axle comes from the same common ancestor as the Latin axis, the proto-indo-european root *aks– also meaning the same.

The Spanish eje is easy to understand if we remember that most of the x/sh/ch sounds in Latin and the ancient languages became the throat-clearing -j- sound in Spanish. Thus, the e-j of eje maps to the a-x of axle pretty clearly.

It’s interesting how such a simple word has remained mostly unchanged for tens of thousands of years. Perhaps, the axle is one of the most fundamental discoveries in human history. It is, after all, what led to the wheel, which led to… civilization.

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